Over the past six months, Max Landis’ take on the Man of Steel has presented fans with a more human, slightly less idealized version of Clark Kent. In many ways, that comes to a crescendo in “Superman: American Alien” #6, when Landis and Jonathan Case bring in some of Clark’s old friends from Smallville just as Superman’s profile explodes in Metropolis. As Landis and Case remind us, sometimes old friends need to bring us back down to the ground, even if you’re an alien who can fly.
Landis walks a fine line in “Superman: American Alien” #6; we need to see a Clark Kent who is caught up in the Superman hype, in addition to his likable and recognizable characteristics. This mostly succeeds here. Seeing Clark standing in front of the massive Superman billboard conveys his glee, even as you can see where he’s started to lose sight of everything around him. Landis’ story is almost like a seesaw in motion: one moment, Clark is exuberant and boastful to Pete and Kenny; the next minute, we see a tender, friendly moment between Clark and Jimmy that gives Jimmy the confidence boost he needs at a critical moment.
Clark has learned more about being a hero in each issue of “Superman: American Alien,” but this installment is his biggest step to date. The confrontation between Pete and Clark almost hurts to read, because it rings true that Clark is missing the forest for the trees. Not only is he riding his level of fame, but his admission on what he’s secretly hoping for is a gut-punch to the reader, who knows how futile that dream really is. Landis ultimately gives us a strong one-two punch; first, when Pete reminds Clark of what’s really important, particularly in regard to all of the other super-powered beings that are starting to appear, and then when we get a literal rise and fall as Clark tries to make it to the Moon. It’s a wonderful, shocking moment that not only brings a dollop of humility to Superman, but also brings the bigger picture home, even as Clark learns a piece of information about his past. When Clark and Pete have their second big conversation afterwards, you can see how it’s already affecting Clark — and in a good way.
I was pleasantly surprised to see Case on “Superman: American Alien” #6; I suspect a lot of superhero fans might not be familiar with his work on the “Green River Killer” graphic novel (which is excellent), but this should hopefully raise his profile. Case’s characters are really expressive. For instance, the confrontation between Pete and Clark works so well in no small part because of the way Case reflects the characters’ internal struggles on their faces. I love the way Case draws the beat between Pete saying he can’t figure out what Clark’s up to and Clark’s admission, because you can almost see him taking in a deep breath as he prepares to put everything on the table — and then, try comparing that to Clark’s gleeful “Welcome to Metropolis!” face or Pete’s stunned “Uh-oh” as he and Kenny drink it all in. When we get the big moment on the way to the Moon, it’s shocking not only because of the events that Landis dreams up, but because of how well Case draws the disorienting discovery. From Clark’s shifting, tilting form to the way his face is pressed up against the surface, there’s a lot to take in, and Case makes you want to stop and reread the sequence several times.
“Superman: American Alien” #6 is another strong installment in one of the best Superman stories published in quite a while. It’s sad to know we only have one more issue to go, but right now the series is almost assured to go out on a high note. We’re six-for-six now, and all parties involved should be proud of what they’re delivering.